Sarah Pucek is what her manager calls the real Million Dollar Baby.
And the 31-year-old B.C. boxer’s success in Poland Saturday night – while not a victory – has earned her some added respect in the international sports ring.
In a battle against the defending world super featherweight champ, Pucek achieved heights in boxing that shoe only fantasized about a decade ago, said her long-time trainer and manager Dave Allison.
As Pucek stood on the podium being introduced to 10,000 screaming fans, with Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant song blasting, flames shooting upward, and smoke machines filling the room, she remembered her beginning in the sport.
Pucek described it as a surreal moment, recounting how she joined the Langley City Boxing program at the Timms Community Centre in Langley City, just after seeing the movie Million Dollar Baby and watching an early title defence by Jelena Mrdjenovich on TSN.
In that moments before the fight last night on the Polish stage, she reflected back on her starting point and realized what an amazing journey she’s been on to bring her to Europe to fight for this world championship.
While last night’s fight goes down in the books as a unanimous decision for Polish fighter Ewa Brodnicka – the undefeated world champ– Allison insisted the rounds were close.
“Even the first three were non-stop action,” said Allison, who along with his son Jamie, has been training and managing Pucek since she first took up the sport 12 years ago.
“Neither fighter was badly hurt during the fight, and without a doubt the crowd got their money’s worth,” he said.
After rushing to write her final exam, she and her team spent two sleepless days of travel getting to Poland for this fight. That fatigue, combined with what Allison calls ring rust (Pucek not having fought much in a year due to a demanding work and school schedule), worked against the Langley athlete.
But, Allison was still elated with his boxer’s showing.
“When the bell rang to start the fight, the ring rust showed as did a travel schedule that Team Pucek had endured,” he admitted. While it lost them the first three rounds, Pucek came back with a vengance.
“I believe inactivity was the biggest issue,” Allison elaborated. “By the fourth round Pucek started to find herself and now the fight was on. The momentum started to change and drift waords the Langley boxer in what was to become a seesaw battle for the final six rounds.”
Pucek started to land what her manager called “solid right hand leads out of the slot that stopped the determined [Brodnicka] in her tracks. Brodnicka fought like a fighter who has never lost and she quickly would recover. This quick pace did present an issue for Pucek, however she adapted as the fight went on. As the fight went on Pucek got stronger and appeared to win the last two rounds,” said Allison, who was jumping a plane for Amsterdam.
“The momentum was in Pucek’s favour, however, time ran out.”
That ring rust that Allison referred to will not have a chance to collect again before her next fight.
Pucek is back in the ring again in a little more than a month.
On May 25, she’s at Langley Events Centre competing in her normal weight of 126 pounds when she defends her British Commonwealth featheweight championship title against world-ranked Olivia Gerula of Winnipeg in a 10-round fight.
Allison sees this is a “risky fight” to take after such a tough fight, but insisted Pucek “wants the competition and believes in herself.”
We have worked on the fight for some time and local fans are going to see a world-class fight” Allison added, noting this style match up will make for a very entertaining fight.
Gerula is a veteran of 40 pro fights and 11 of them world title fights.
She has two loves
Pucek finished high school and started boxing at the age of 18, as a way to keep in shape.
As she tells it, she did amateur competitions for a few years before turning pro, crediting boxing with giving her focus to achieve so many things in life.
“When I started boxing, I was working as a gardener at an equestrian facility, and I fell in love with plants and horticulture,” she shares on her Kwantlen Polytechnic University page. She met someone from KPU who turned her on to the science and horticulture faculty at the Langley campus, and now she is an urban ecosystems student.
“Going to university is one of the things I am most proud of,” she wrote. “I never had plans for pursuing higher education. Studying at KPU has given me confidence in life and gifted me with amazing relationships with both students and teachers.”
Nearly finished her studies, Pucek said “Gardening and boxing are very different. I actually love that I have two passions that are so very different.”